Well-known names surface for Knox trustee job

6:45 PM, Jul 3, 2013   |    comments
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By Mike Donila

(WBIR - Knoxville, Tn.) Knox County has begun taking resumes to replace John Duncan III, the former Trustee who resigned Tuesday after pleading guilty to a felony charge, and already the rumor pool throughout the City County Building where most local leaders work is brimming with some well-known names.

Not all of them, however, are even interested in the position.

"No, absolutely none at all," said Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond, who is still mulling whether to take on Joy McCroskey next year for her criminal courts clerk post, but ruled out the trustee's job.

Hammond, a long-time commissioner and former board chairman, said he wants a professional - not a politician - to serve out the remainder of Duncan's term, which expires at the end of August 2014.

"I'd like to see a caretaker come in - someone who is not going to use it as a stepping stone to run for the office," he said. "We need a professional who can get it straightened out and cleaned out. I'm not sure a politician can do that."

In the past half decade, the office has run into a series of troubles and top leaders in the department have come under fire.

In April 2012, former Trustee Mike Lowe and several of his employees turned themselves over to authorities after investigators spent years looking into whether they paid out and took in money connected to employees and a title search company that supposedly did little, if any, work.

On Tuesday, Duncan pleaded guilty to official misconduct, which was tied to bonuses he paid out to himself and a number of employees for educational studies they never completed. Last December, two of his top staffers pleaded guilty to facilitation of official misconduct.

Kristin Phillips, who has worked in the Trustee's office for roughly two decades, will fill in as interim trustee until the County Commission appoints someone.

Phillips, who is not a Knox County resident, isn't expected to apply for the spot, officials said.

In the meantime, those interested can submit resumes to the Knox County Commission's office no later than noon on July 15, the same day the board holds its work session. The commission will hold a public hearing that will include candidate interviews at 1 p.m. that day, and then make an official appointment during the board's regular meeting on July 22.

The job, which oversees the county's tax collections office, pays  $113,624 a year.

As it stands, six people -including Hammond - have been rumored to apply, shown public interest or received a push from others.

For example, last year Property Assessor Phil Ballard suggested to commissioners that they should give Craig Leuthold a shot if Duncan were to step down.

When asked Wednesday, Leuthold, a former commissioner, said "anything is possible."

 "There's interest but we're going to have to take a look at it and see what needs to be done," he said. "I'm going to talk to some people and see if that's something I want to pursue."

Leuthold, who spent 16 years in the Trustee's Office before moving over to the property assessor's department in 2010, most recently served as chairman of the Knox County Charter Review Committee.

Local politicos also have mentioned several current commissioners, including R. Larry Smith and Ed Shouse, as possibilities.

"I'll decide over the weekend probably," said Smith, the board's vice chairman. "There's a lot that's been going on."

Shouse, who serves on the pension board, the pension board's investment committee and the county's investment committee, said he's interested in the job, but only if he's not restricted from also running for it later if he's appointed.

"I think my background and some of the things I've done on commission - like being on the audit committee and the investment committee - are natural to head up the department," said Shouse, whose private career includes spent 22 years in the railroad business and 20 years as a banker.

However, Fred Sisk, who spent 21 years in the office, including several as trustee, said he would be willing to take over for only the 14-month term.

"I've no interest in running for it because I don't want to be the guy who is out in front," said Sisk, the trustee from 2008-2010. "I don't like all the attention but when you put 21 years into something you want to see it run well."

Sisk noted that during the next couple of months whoever takes over will have to work with auditors on the county's comprehensive annual finance report, or CAFR, and kick off the upcoming tax season, which could require training new or seasonal employees.

Others, including Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, said they asked Ann Acuff, who retired toward the end of 2011 after spending more than 45 years in the county's finance office, if she would apply for the position.

Her name also was kicked around as a possible successor several months after she left the county when reports emerged that Duncan was potentially in trouble and rumors around the City County Building suggested that he would step down.

On Wednesday, though, Acuff said she wasn't interested.

"I've thought a lot about it, but, really, I'm enjoying retirement," she said. "I think it's a compliment that they even thought of me and I appreciate it, but I don't think I'm interested."

Those who are, however, can submit resumes to:

Office of the Knox County Commission
Suite 603, City County Building
400 Main Ave.
Knoxville, TN 37902

They can be faxed to 865-215-2534 or sent via email to commission@knoxcounty.org

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